2023/24 Budget and prioritising spending
The Independence Day celebrations have now ended and now it is time to look forward to matters which will decide how the nation will function in the next financial year.
Just before the closing of the year-long celebration of the 60th Independence, the Minister for Finance Mulipola Anarosa Ale Molioo announced the National Budget for 2023/2024. A budget which is a whopping $1.08 billion with the Ministry of Health getting the largest slice of the pie followed by the Ministry of Education, Sports and Culture.
The new financial year's budget is $134 million higher than the last budget brought down by the current Government.
This budget would have shown us where the Government’s priority is and if it was going to follow through with budgetary commitment to ensure they accomplish their goals.
The Ministry of Health needs more than what it is getting in the next budget. There should have been consideration into hiring specialists and procurement of specialist equipment instead we have gone back to the same old formula and allocated $5m for overseas treatment.
From what we have learnt this year is that the $5m is certainly not enough for overseas medical treatments. Samoans are still refusing to follow a healthy lifestyle giving rise to more non-communicable diseases and this in turn putting more financial constraints on the Government.
Although this is the biggest allocation, the increment is $6 million only which would cater for the 10 per cent pay rise and take care of overtime. There are other areas which need attention.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting which will be held in October next year has been given an allocation of $20 million. It is still unclear how this money will be used, hopefully efficiently.
There is no indication from the Government in the budget about helping underprivileged children stay in school. There is no special announcement if education would be made free for such children so we can reduce the number of child vendors on the street.
The good news is that the $1m District Development Project continues under the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Development.
The biggest funding boost goes to the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Development with their budget going up $14 million, mainly to cater for the Government's $1 million District Development Project which will be continued in the new financial year.
This is where forward planning from the respective members of parliament should come in. Of the $1m that is allocated to each of the constituencies, a certain portion should be dedicated towards ensuring that the children whose families are not in a financially viable place are able to go to school.
This should be done across the board.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries receives $19.9 million, which is a light increase of around $300,000 from last year.
One would have imagined a bigger budget for this ministry given the sector plan that was launched earlier this year with the Government saying that it wanted to focus more on agriculture and fisheries. Apart from a concessional loan, there is no major budgetary allocation that will allow this sector to grow.
The Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (S.R.O.S.) receives $5.8 million while the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour (M.C.I.L.) gets $18.9 million which is a drop of almost $2 million from last year.
With a busy tourism period anticipated, the Samoa Tourism Authority (S.T.A.) gets $7.2 million while the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (M.C.I.T.) receives $11.6 million.
Samoa Qualifications Authority (S.Q.A.) is all set to get $6.9 million while the Samoa Sports Facility Authority has been allocated $3.6 million and the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) receiving $30.9 million.
The Ministry of Finance (M.O.F.) budget gets an increase of $10 million to boost its budgetary allocation to $114.4 million, of this $20 million is for C.H.O.G.M. 2024 preparations, $3 million for the Concessional Financing Facility through the Development Bank of Samoa for businesses to prepare for C.H.O.G.M. while $33.4 million has been allocated for the Senior Citizens Pension Scheme, with $2 million for the Disability Benefit Package and $1 million for the Government's forensic audit project.
Hopefully the Government is able to utilise its budget in a proper way and ensure transparency and accountability.
Government leaders' handling of recent controversies, such as the Kite Runner saga and the Chinese tour operator outcry raises questions about their committment to good governance.
The events starting from the pleasure boat to the tour operators have done very little to say that this is the manner in which the Government has been moving.
The Government is for the people and not for the MPs and therefore the budget has to be a well thought out financial plan which would cater for the needs of Samoans.
It is a foregone conclusion that the 2023/24 Budget will be passed due to the current Administration's majority in the Parliament. But the focus of the money plan should be on the people and citizens should also have confidence that the Budget will address their pertinent concerns.
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